16.2.19

The House inquiries into the secret Trump-Putin talks are (slowly) taking shape

 

Two powerful House oversight committees are getting their subpoenas ready.

President Donald Trump has reportedly gone to extreme lengths to keep secret his discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but now House Democrats are getting ready to take their first meaningful steps to force Trump to come clean.

The chairmen of two powerful congressional oversight panels, Rep. Adam Schiff with the Intelligence Committee and Rep. Eliot Engel with the Foreign Affairs Committee, tell Politico’s Andrew Desiderio they are exploring options to legally compel the president to disclose his private conversations with the Russian president. The two lawmakers are “actively consulting” with House General Counsel Douglas Letter to explore the extent of their subpoena power — a step lawmakers often make before taking action on issues that could end up in court.

“I had a meeting with the general counsel to discuss this and determine the best way to find out what took place in those private meetings — whether it’s by seeking the interpreter’s testimony, the interpreter’s notes, or other means,” Schiff, a California Democrat, told Politico in an interview.

Now that they are in control of the House and hold subpoena power within top oversight committees, Democrats have promised to pursue a number of investigative avenues into Trump’s dealings with Russian officials, looking into everything from his business dealings with foreign officials to his one-on-one conversations with Putin. It’s been slow going, but Schiff and Engel say they want to have airtight legal grounds to investigate the Trump administration to the fullest extent.

The Washington Post reported last month that even high-ranking officials within Trump’s own administration were unaware of specifics discussed between the two leaders. Trump went so far on one occasion as to seize his interpreter’s notes to prevent them from reaching the public — something top officials weren’t even aware of until they sought out the interpreter’s notes, only to find the records weren’t there. The White House says Trump took hold of those notes in order to prevent leaks.

That puts the focus on Trump’s interpreter, Marina Gross, who is one of the few Americans, if not the only person other than Trump himself, who knows what was said at these meetings.

There’s a chance Democrats will be able to subpoena her notes and have her publicly testify on the contents of discussions between the two leaders, but they’ll likely face some limitations in probing the one-on-one talks between the president and world leaders. Per Politico:

Schiff said his discussions with the general counsel centered on potential legal roadblocks, including executive privilege. The California Democrat, a former federal prosecutor, said his initial conversations with Letter suggest that Trump would not be able to legally claim such privilege to block House Democrats.

“That’s a privilege that, based on first impression, is designed to facilitate consultations between the president and members of his staff and Cabinet — not to shield communications with a foreign leader,” Schiff said. “But that’s just a preliminary take. And once we get the studied opinion of the general counsel, then we’ll decide how to go forward.”

The White House is expected to fight every step of the way.

But given Trump’s appeasing tone toward Putin — on display in Helsinki last July when he undermined his own intelligence agency by saying the Kremlin did not interfere with his 2016 election win — House leaders say they’re justified in their investigation.

And the majority of Americans seem to agree. According to a new poll released late last month, six in 10 Americans said they backed the Democratic inquiries.



vox

How capitalism reduced diversity to a brand

 

Measles is back in the US because states make it too easy to avoid vaccines

 

The era of religious and moral vaccine exemptions needs to end — and fast.

As of Friday, more than 270 people across the country, mostly small children, have been infected by the super contagious and sometimes deadly pathogen, measles, in ongoing outbreaks since last fall.

In New York City, the virus has been spreading since September among Orthodox Jews, some of whom reject vaccines on behalf of their children because of unfounded safety concerns. In Washington, mistrust of health officials and pharmaceutical companies appears to be driving parents to opt out, leading to 53 cases since January 1. (Nearly one in four kindergartners aren’t vaccinated at the outbreak’s epicenter, Clark County.) There are also cases in Texas, Oregon, and western and southern New York State.

These outbreaks will cost states and the federal government millions of dollars to contain. They’ll distract from other important public health programs. Most importantly, they’ll put people who can’t be immunized — people allergic to vaccines, newborn babies — at risk.

But here’s the most frustrating part: This is all entirely avoidable. By 2000, thanks to the measles vaccine, the virus had been eliminated in the US. It’s absurd that outbreaks have reappeared, yet there’s a single reason why: Too many states make it way too easy for parents to avoid vaccines on behalf of their kids.

In other words, measles is making a comeback because of a policy failure.

Most of the people with measles right now weren’t immunized from the virus. They all live in places that permit a variety of nonmedical — religious or philosophical — exemptions from vaccines.

But some states, like Mississippi and West Virginia, don’t tolerate these loopholes; their vaccine coverage rates are higher and they haven’t had to deal with any outbreaks lately. Researchers have repeatedly shown that when you make it easier for parents to avoid vaccines, they take advantage — and vaccine exemptions rise. So if we want to prevent dangerous, costly, and needless measles outbreaks — like the half-dozen going on now across the country right now — we need to close the vaccine loopholes. And, as California’s recent experience shows, that’ll probably require more than simply banning religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions.

When measles vaccine coverage drops below 95 percent, “outbreaks are inevitable”

Before we get into the wonky details of state vaccine policies, we need to understand why measles immunization is so essential.

It’s not an overstatement to say that measles is one of the most infectious diseases known to man. When people aren’t immunized, it’s extremely easy to catch measles. In an unvaccinated population, one person with measles can infect 12 to 18 others. That’s way higher than other viruses like Ebola, HIV, or SARS. (With Ebola, one case usually leads to two others. With HIV and SARS, one case usually leads to another four.)

In the US, before a vaccine was introduced in 1963, there were 4 million measles cases, with 48,000 hospitalizations and 500 deaths in the US every year. Measles was also a leading killer of children globally.

These days, with two doses the measles vaccine is 97 percent effective in individuals. But for the vaccine to protect the population, including the small number of people who can’t be vaccinated, we need what’s known as herd immunity. Depending on the virus a vaccine is preventing, a certain percentage of people needs to be immunized to keep disease from spreading through populations very easily (to achieve herd immunity.) Because measles spreads so easily, the percentage needed for herd immunity is really high.

“As soon as [measles] vaccination coverage drops below 95 percent,” Seth Berkley, the head of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, warned in a recent CNN article, “outbreaks are inevitable.” That means nearly everybody in a community who can get the vaccine needs to be accounted for to stop the virus from spreading.

The era of lax vaccine policies has to end

But state legislators have put policies in place that, in many cases, make it too easy for parents to opt out of vaccines.

It was actually measles outbreaks in the 1960s that inspired a push to have states require children get inoculated before starting kindergarten. By the 1980s, all states had mandatory immunization laws in place. The idea behind these laws was simple: Near-universal vaccinations sustain herd immunity.

Still, there’s a lot of variation across the country when it comes to immunization requirements. Even though all 50 states have legislation requiring vaccines for students entering school, almost every state allows exemptions for people with religious beliefs against immunizations, and 18 states grant philosophical exemptions for those opposed to vaccines because of personal or moral beliefs. (The exceptions are Mississippi, California, and West Virginia, which have the strictest vaccine laws in the nation, allowing only medical exemptions.)

In these places, opting out can mean simply listening to a doctor or health official explain the benefits of vaccination or getting a signed statement about your religious beliefs notarized. It’s often harder for parents to sign their kids out of school for the day than to help them avoid vaccines.

In 45 states, even without an exemption, kids can be granted “conditional entrance” to school on the promise that they will be vaccinated, but schools don’t always bother to follow up.

We have plenty of evidence, spanning more than a decade, to show that when you make it easier for parents to opt out of their shots, the rates of vaccine exemptions tend to be higher. The most recent 2018 analysis of US vaccine policies found that states allowing both religious and philosophical exemptions — as 18 states currently do — were associated with a 2.3 percent decrease in measles-mumps-rubella vaccine rates and a 1.5 percent increase in both total exemptions and nonmedical exemptions.

Every state also allows medical exemptions for people who might be harmed by a vaccine, such as those with weakened immune systems because of an illness or allergies to vaccine ingredients. And there appears to be no shortage of quack-ish health professionals who will sign off on questionable medical exemptions for people who don’t have legitimate health concerns.

What’s more, only nine states require annual (or more frequent) recertification for medical exemptions. So for example, if a child in a K-12 school gets an exemption in kindergarten, it will follow them through to college. She’ll never be asked to renew that exemption.

So there are many ways for people to worm out of vaccines. “Putting some kind of administrative control on vaccine opt-outs is vitally important,” said Diane Peterson, the associate director for immunization projects at the Immunization Action Coalition. “It just shouldn’t be easier to get out of vaccination than it is to get vaccinated.”

California has made it tougher to opt out of vaccines — with mixed and instructive results

Some states have been moving to crack down on vaccine avoiders — most notably California — and the experience there is instructive for states that might want to close some of their loopholes.

California’s former governor, Jerry Brown, signed a controversial bill in 2015 that abolished nonmedical exemptions, requiring almost all schoolchildren in the state to be vaccinated unless they have a medical reason for opting out. The law, SB277, was a response to a large measles outbreak that originated at the Disneyland theme park.

According to the state health department, the number of kindergarten students in the 2017-2018 school year with all their required vaccines was 95.1 percent — a 4.7 percentage point increase over 2014-2015 and the second-highest reported vaccine rate since health authorities started tracking.

Hidden within that increase is some conflicting data, said Emory vaccine researcher Saad Omer. Since the law was enacted, medical exemptions have also increased, suggesting there may be an unintended effect of the crackdown on nonmedical exemptions.

But something else was going on in California, and it offset that increase in medical exemptions. To explain: In parallel with abolishing nonmedical exemptions through SB277, California launched the “Conditional Entrant Intervention Project,” in 2015. The idea was that public health professionals would work with local health departments to identify schools granting high rates of conditional entrants, and work with them to bring them down.

Between 2014 and 2014, Omer and his colleagues found a sharp 23 percent decline in the conditional admission rate between 2014 and 2015. So even with the rise in medical exemptions, the overall vaccine exemption rate still went down thanks to the decline in conditional vaccine entry to schools.

Omer told Vox, “I’m not discounting eliminating nonmedical exemptions. It’s a reasonable option. But it may not resolve all issues.”

There is indeed evidence from Mississippi and West Virginia that strict vaccine laws can work — but again, interpret it with caution.

Immunization rates in Mississippi and West Virginia — the only other two US states that don’t allow non-medical exemptions — are always among the best in the nation. In the 2014-’15 school year, more than 99 percent of kindergartners in Mississippi had their MMR and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis shots — the highest rate in the US. The rates for those vaccines were 98 percent for kindergartners in West Virginia. These figures are much higher than the national averages (85 percent for diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis and 92 percent for measles-mumps-rubella).

But these two states also have demographics that probably help vaccine coverage. Researchers have repeatedly found that parents on the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum, including those who send their kids to private and alternative schools, tend to be the ones who opt out of vaccine. Mississippi and West Virginia are among the poorest states in the nation.

Perhaps these demographic factors contribute to the high vaccine rates in the two states, the authors of a recent analysis in Health Affairs suggested:

Among US states, Mississippi and West Virginia rank fiftieth and forty-ninth, respectively, in median income, and forty-ninth and fiftieth, respectively, in the percentage of people ages twenty-five and older who have completed a bachelor’s degree. Thus, the states may have a smaller number of residents who are likely to hold anti-vaccination views and to have the political and social capital to undertake successful efforts to influence their legislators.

That suggests that simply outlawing nonmedical exemptions may not be a panacea in states that have a high percentage of parents using their social capital to spread anti-vaccine views. And as we saw in California, a ban on nonmedical exemptions could even backfire if other vaccine loopholes are left open.

So finding ways to make it more inconvenient to opt out — by cracking down on the conditional entry to school, introducing exemptions with regular renewals — should be what policymakers work toward.

And they should move fast. The percentage of people seeking nonmedical exemptions — while still small — has also been creeping upward, from 1.1 percent in 2009-2010 to 2.2 percent by 2017-2018. Outbreaks in recent years have also been getting larger, Omer said. “That’s the canary in the coal mine for me.”



vox

Bill and Melinda Gates and the problem of the “good billionaire”

 
Melinda and Bill Gates speak at Hunter College on February 13, 2018, in New York City.

A new wave of critics say even the most generous billionaires are bad. Are they right?

Bill and Melinda Gates are odd billionaires.

The Gateses, who released their foundation’s annual letter this week, are not cartoonishly out-of-touch would-be aesthetes like Steven Schwarzman, the private equity billionaire who gave Yale $150 million for a performing arts center; they’re not magnates attempting to use their money to swing elections like Charles and David Koch or Tom Steyer.

They’re also not self-hating plutocrats like Nick Hanauer who openly decry their station in society and constantly demand just economic policies. And they’re certainly not among the dozens of barely known billionaires who fill out the Forbes 400 list of America’s richest people (quick, tell me all your thoughts about, uh, Thomas Peterffy?).

But I think in some ways, the Gateses (and to a certain extent, Cari Tuna and Dustin Moskovitz as well) raise the hardest questions about the role billionaires and philanthropy play in our society. Which is to say: The Gates Foundation has the kind of money and power that there are very, very good reasons to not want a foundation controlled by a private individual (or, in this case, three individuals — Bill, Melinda, and Warren Buffett) to have.

It is able to spend vast sums of money to influence the lives of people around the globe with minimal accountability, without the discipline that consumers and competitors force on businesses and voters force on governments.

When I look at figures like Steyer or Schwarzman or the Kochs or Howard Schultz exercising the power derived from their wealth, my reaction is easy: You’re doing this wrong. You’re not living up to the responsibility inherent in having that kind of money and power. The money you’re spending would probably be better used in public coffers.

I think the Gates Foundation, by contrast, has mostly used that money and power well. And I’m not entirely sure how to design a system that preserves the genuinely valuable work they do while dramatically lessening the role of billionaires in general, even as I think the latter shift is important and necessary.

I’m not going to defend everything that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has ever done. I’m publicly on record as saying its choice to work in K-12 American education was a mistake — and that’s also among the areas where the Gateses’ work has the most troubling implications for democracy, given that their money has given them a somewhat shocking amount of power over the whole discourse around education reform.

But if you look at the bread and butter of Gates’s work on global health — fighting malaria, funding vaccine development and deployment, work on HIV/AIDS — it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the group has saved a tremendous number of lives.

To give just one example, the Gateses provided $750 million in seed funding to establish Gavi, a nonprofit that specializes in providing vaccines in poor countries; in total, the Gateses have given the group some $4 billion.

A World Health Organization report estimated that between 2000 and 2013, Gavi provided 440 million immunizations and averted 6 million deaths.

That’s not solely the Gateses’ doing — but it’s pretty fair to say that they played a major role. And that’s just one example of how the foundation has saved lives.

A common response to this line of argument is to say that the work the Gates Foundation does should instead be done by governments, through taxes. And I profoundly agree with that as a normative principle.

How do you solve a problem like billionaires

But suppose for a minute that you confiscated the Gates family fortune and gave it to the US Treasury. What are the odds that Congress would allocate the funds to giving vaccines to poor people abroad? What are the odds they’d use the money to pay for more missiles, or just reduce the deficit slightly with no other real effect?

If the diminution of the Gateses’ fortune was matched one for one by an increase in US government spending on public health abroad, I would be 100 percent on board. Take their money, give it to poor countries to build universal health care systems. I’m just not certain that’s the relevant counterfactual.

Usefully, Bill Gates personally recently weighed in on the idea of him paying much more in taxes to fund more public goods through the government. He told my Verge colleague Nilay Patel, “We can be more progressive, the estate tax and the tax on capital, the way the FICA and Social Security taxes work. We can be more progressive without really threatening income generation.” He added on Stephen Colbert’s show that he wants higher capital gains rates.

Bill also told Forbes’s Randall Lane, “I think it’s fascinating that for the first time in my life people are saying, ‘Okay, should you have billionaires?’ ‘Should you have a wealth tax?’ I think it’s a fine discussion.” He can be overly defensive about some critiques in that discussion — he preposterously implied that writer Anand Giridharadas is a “communist” for supporting large systemic change in the economy and philanthropy — but he’s hardly Schwarzman, who once compared raising tax rates on capital to the Nazi invasion of Poland.

And none of the policy plans to target wealth inequality put out by left-leaning Democrats would really threaten Gates’s ability to give large amounts to effective causes.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s 70 percent top tax bracket is perfectly compatible with large charitable giving, especially if we retain a charitable deduction.

Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax would take 3 percent of wealth over $1 billion every year, which is not a particularly large dent in Gates’s fortune, especially given that he can save money and earn higher interest than that.

Bernie Sanders’s 77 percent estate tax would probably spur more giving to charity in bequests as long as a deduction remains.

But it’s clear that some of the impulse among left activists critical of billionaires is not to cut wealth inequality while holding, say, Gates’s charitable work harmless; it’s to make a more basic moral argument that no one should have that kind of money to give away. That might argue for much higher taxes on the ultrarich, but it could also argue for a broader cultural understanding in which someone like Gates is not admired for what he’s doing but admonished.

That’s the cultural and policy shift I’m less sure about. It would probably lead to good outcomes in the cases of 90 percent-plus of billionaires. It could lead to good outcomes in the cases of the Gateses if it’s matched by a conviction to use the US government to remedy global inequality, not just intra-American inequality. But absent a shift like that, the wealth of the small number of seriously philanthropic billionaires might do more good in private rather than public hands.


Sign up for the Future Perfect newsletter. Twice a week, you’ll get a roundup of ideas and solutions for tackling our biggest challenges: improving public health, decreasing human and animal suffering, easing catastrophic risks, and — to put it simply — getting better at doing good.



vox

The Democratic National Committee has voted down a ban on corporate PAC donations

 
DNC Chair Tom Perez speaks at a Florida rally in 2017.

The DNC isn’t ready to give up corporate PAC money.

An internal fight is roiling the Democratic National Committee over whether to forgo corporate PAC money and make a big statement against money in politics as the 2020 presidential election starts to shift into high gear.

A small group of committee members thinks the DNC needs to show it’s serious about banning corporate PAC donations, taking the same step as many presidential candidates who have pledged to forgo corporate PAC money. Others in the DNC want every tool possible to defeat President Trump.

The DNC said it would only take money from corporations in line with the organization’s values in 2016. But its Resolutions Committee that met in Washington, DC, this week stopped short of banning for-profit corporate PAC donations altogether. The committee instead chose to study the issue over the next 18 months.

Some complained that amounts to doing nothing.

“We haven’t quite come to grips as a party with the fact that people do not trust us. As much as we think that they should, they simply don’t,” said Christine Pelosi, chair of the California Democratic Party women’s caucus. Pelosi, who is the daughter of House speaker Nancy Pelosi, submitted the resolution to bring back the ban on corporate PAC money former President Barack Obama introduced as a candidate during the 2008 election.

Pelosi nodded to Democrats’ sweeping midterms win in 2018, which was carried by a number of candidates in Trump-friendly districts who ran their campaigns without corporate PAC money. A total of 52 Democratic House members are no longer taking corporate PAC contributions, including 35 new members who won in 2018.

The idea of getting money out of politics is extremely politically popular and transcends party lines, according to recent polling. As the DNC touts grassroots fundraising, Pelosi argued the organization needs to get serious about walking the walk before its first debates this summer.

“Y’all want to fight at the convention? You’re going to have one,” Pelosi said during the Resolutions Committee meeting. “We’re going to have a presidential debate, they’re going to ask what side we’re on. I just want us all to be ready. We’re going to need a very, very good PR strategy to explain why we made the decisions that we made.”

But other DNC members have been much more hesitant, up to the top ranks of the DNC.

“My No. 1 focus, frankly, is to get rid of Donald Trump,” said committee member Charlie King, the former executive director of the New York State Democratic Party. “Sometimes perfection is the enemy of the good.”

Money in politics is shaping up to be a big internal fight for Democrats

For all the controversy, the DNC only accepted $144,000 of corporate PAC money in 2018, out of $175 million in total fundraising. Pelosi and others in favor of a ban argued this small amount shows taking PAC money is more of a liability than it is a boon to national Democrats.

“The real question here [is] ... what are we saying to the people across this country, whose votes we need, not only to eliminate this president but to adopt an agenda for change?” said Larry Cohen, a DNC member and board member of the Bernie Sanders-affiliated group Our Revolution.

But those concerns were overridden by another, bigger fear from others on the committee: that banning corporate PAC money could open up the possibility of Democrats losing to Trump in 2020.

“I don’t want to take the chance that we lose,” King said. “I don’t want to see Donald Trump for another four years where communities of color lose another four years. I don’t want to get it wrong.”

The ban would only apply to the DNC, not state parties, individual candidates, or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Pelosi told Vox she has been fighting DNC leadership for some time to instate a ban, and that she believes the issue has already been sufficiently studied by herself and others.

“As much as the leadership took the work I had done and said we already banned corporate PAC money, that is opposed in our platform — understand, that took me a year-and-a-half to do, and they fought me kicking and screaming every step along the way,” Pelosi said. “For them to announce it in their resolution today, to take credit for it — understand, it was not a change they wanted. It was a change that was very, very hard-fought.”

The DNC is talking about how money in politics is bad — while continuing to take it

Despite being the party that rails against corporate money influencing politics, the DNC is still taking it. For years, Democrats have positioned themselves as the morally superior to Republicans when it comes to money in politics. But the money is still flowing.

The DNC quietly did away with Obama’s corporate PAC donations ban in 2016, in the middle of a presidential primary where the corrupting influence of politics became a major campaign issue.

And corporate influence could be seen all over the 2016 DNC convention in Philadelphia; even flags on light posts featured logos of corporate sponsors. Corporations hosted numerous events and parties during the convention that politicians and their staff attended, getting facetime with lobbyists — per an account from former Vox reporter Jeff Stein.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders railed on the outsized role corporations and millionaires and billionaires had in America’s politics when running against Hillary Clinton.

The fact that more Democrats running for president and Congress have taken the no corporate PAC pledge is a sign the party is trending in Sanders’s direction on this issue. House Democrats also rolled out a sweeping anti-corruption bill called HR 1 as their first bill of the year.

Many in the party will argue Democrats should use every resource they can get to defeat Trump — even as many candidates themselves forgo corporate PAC money. But others are decrying it as hypocritical, asking the DNC to hold itself to a higher standard and think about the message it sends to voters.



vox

Update On 2019 Elections

 

INEC in Night Meeting Over Presidential, NASS Elections

 

Mueller recommends a very lengthy sentence for Paul Manafort

 
Paul Manafort’s mugshot, June 2018

The sentencing memo was harsh.

Special counsel Robert Mueller would like Paul Manafort to go to prison for a long, long time, according to a new sentencing memo he’s filed for Manafort’s case in Virginia.

The special counsel did not recommend a specific sentence for Manafort, but as a ballpark, he said he agreed with the probation department’s proposed guidelines for a sentence of at least 19 and a half years.

“Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars,” Mueller wrote. “The sentence here should reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and serve to both deter Manafort and others from engaging in such conduct.”

Manafort was convicted of financial crimes after a trial in Virginia, and then struck a plea deal to avert a second trial in Washington, DC. So he will be sentenced by two different judges — T.S. Ellis III in Virginia, and Amy Berman Jackson in the District of Columbia.

This first sentencing memo was filed in Virginia, and focuses on Manafort’s financial crimes: filing false income tax returns, not declaring foreign assets, and bank fraud.

All of the charges against Manafort have so far related to his past work for the former government of Ukraine, his finances, or attempting to interfere with the investigation. He has not been charged with any criminal conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 elections.

But Mueller clearly believes Manafort has still been hiding a great deal. The special counsel accused him of lying about his sharing of Trump campaign poll data with a Russian associate, hiding his work to advance a “Ukraine peace plan,” and other topics.

Manafort’s complicated legal situation, explained

Manafort is a somewhat legendary Republican operative and lobbyist who spent a decade working for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians before joining Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.

Because of his ties to pro-Russian interests, Manafort has long been a major figure of interest to investigators probing whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to interfere with the election — and he ended up being the first person indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller. His legal road since then has been long and winding:

  • In October 2017, Mueller indicted Manafort and his longtime right-hand-man Rick Gates in Washington, DC, for conspiracy and lobbying-related crimes related to their past Ukraine work.
  • In February 2018, Mueller filed his second indictment of Manafort — this one in the Eastern District of Virginia, for tax, bank fraud, and other financial crimes. Shortly afterward, Gates “flipped,” striking a plea deal and cooperating with the government.
  • In June 2018, Mueller added more charges to Manafort in DC, alleging that he and his Russian associate Konstantin Kilimnik tried to obstruct the investigation through witness tampering.
  • Manafort’s Virginia case ended up going to trial first, and on August 21, a jury found him guilty on eight counts of filing false tax returns, bank fraud, and failure to report foreign assets. (The jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict on 10 other counts due to one holdout, and those charges ended up being dismissed.)
  • After his conviction, Manafort agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors in DC, to avert that pending second trial. In the plea, Manafort admitted all the charges against him were true, agreed to forfeit millions of dollars in assets, and committed to cooperate with the government.
  • But last November, after Manafort had met 12 times with the government and appeared twice before Mueller’s grand jury, the government announced that they believed he’d breached his plea agreement by repeatedly lying to them on several different topics. And last Wednesday, DC Judge Amy Berman Jackson sided with the government on most of those accusations.

So now, Manafort is finally ready to be sentenced — twice. His DC sentencing is scheduled for March 13, and his Virginia sentencing does not yet have a scheduled date.

What Manafort’s actually being sentenced for

During Manafort’s Virginia trial, prosecutors laid out a two-part case.

First, they alleged that in the years before Manafort joined the Trump campaign, he’d gotten paid millions for his work for Ukrainian politicians. Then, he moved $30 million of that money from from foreign shell companies into the US — but he didn’t disclose this income on his tax forms, pay taxes on it, or fill out legally required disclosures of his foreign accounts. For all this, he was convicted of five tax charges and one failure to declare foreign accounts charge.

Second, Mueller’s team focused on what Manafort allegedly did once he lost his Ukrainian income after the country’s president was deposed. They claimed he tried to conjure up more cash via bank fraud — and was convicted of two counts for that.

Then, in the District of Columbia, Manafort eventually pleaded guilty to a broad “conspiracy against the United States” — in which he admitted unregistered lobbying and money laundering related to the Ukraine work — as well as “conspiracy to obstruct justice” (his attempts to get witnesses to stick to a false story about that work). He also admitted to the truth of all the Virginia charges filed against him.

Finally, both judges have previously indicated that when they sentence Manafort, they might take into account Mueller’s accusations that Manafort lied during cooperation. Judge Jackson ruled that Manafort did indeed deliberately lie about a $125,000 payment made on his behalf, about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik (his longtime Russian associate), and about another Justice Department investigation.

It’s been widely speculated that Manafort is hoping for a pardon from President Trump, and Mueller’s team even said in court that this could be a potential motivation for his false statements. Trump has conspicuously declined to rule out such a move.

For now, though, the former Trump campaign manager remains in jail, where he’s resided for eight months. His sentencing in Washington will take place on March 13, and his sentencing in Virginia currently has no scheduled date.


For more on the Mueller probe, follow Andrew Prokop on Twitter and check out Vox’s guide to the Trump-Russia investigation.



vox

3 big things to know about Nigeria’s presidential elections

 

15.2.19

Colin Kaepernick’s collusion grievance against the NFL, explained

 

Illinois and New Jersey passed a $15 minimum wage. That means 1.8 million workers get a raise.

 

Fast-food workers organized dozens of strikes, rallies, and protests to make this happen.

Years of strikes and rallies to raise the minimum wage across the US are starting to pay off.

Earlier this month, New Jersey became the fourth state in the country to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. Illinois is poised to become the fifth one.

On Thursday, Illinois state lawmakers passed a law that will gradually raise the wage floor from $8.25 to $15 an hour by 2024 —the first state in the Midwest to do so. Illinois’s new governor, J.B. Pritzker, had campaigned on a $15 minimum wage and is expected to sign the bill in the coming days. Earlier this month, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a similar bill.

In all, nearly 2 million low-wage workers in both states will get a raise in 2019, according to an analysis by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

The news signals growing momentum for the years-long effort to raise the minimum pay to $15 an hour for workers all across the country. California was the first state to hike hourly wages to $15 in 2016, followed by Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, DC. And Democrats in Congress are now considering a bill for the first time that would establish a $15 federal minimum wage.

Adriana Alvarez, a McDonald’s employee in Chicago and a leader of the Fight for $15 movement, said it took years of protests, rallies, and strikes to make this change happen. “We will have money to buy shoes for our kids and keep the lights on. We’ll be able to put breakfast on the table and maybe go out to the movies every now and then,” she said in a statement Thursday, in reaction to the news.

Fast-food workers have been at the forefront of this effort to increase wages. Within five years, they’ve transformed an improbable proposal into a popular policy — one that would address, in part, the slow wage growth that American workers are experiencing.

Business groups, meanwhile, are not happy about the fight for $15. They’ve long pushed back against any effort to raise the minimum wage, claiming it would destroy small business and trigger massive job losses. The president of Illinois’s Chamber of Commerce said the new law will make Illinois a “second-tier” state, and will encourage businesses to move out of the state.

The chamber had lobbied hard to quash previous attempts to raise the minimum wage. The state’s last governor, Republican Bruce Rauner, angered workers in Illinois when he vetoed a similar bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 in 2017, saying that “that economic evidence suggests such a big wage hike would hurt workers more than help.”

But the idea that raising the minimum wage is actually bad for workers is getting harder to support, as a growing body of research discrediting that claim emerges.

What research says about the impact of raising the minimum wage

There are few topics US economists have researched more than the impact of raising a minimum wage. Their findings have varied over the past 30 years, but there are two things most mainstream economists now agree on.

First, they agree that raising the minimum wage increases the average income of low-wage workers, lifting many out of poverty (depending on how big the raise is). Second, raising the minimum wage likely causes some job losses.

The remaining disagreement revolves around how extreme the job cuts would be.

Some research suggests hundreds of thousands of American workers could lose their jobs with a modest increase to the minimum wage. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist at the conservative American Action Forum, points to a 2014 study from the Congressional Budget Office that estimates that a $10.10 federal wage floor could lead to about 500,000 lost jobs because higher labor costs would lead some employers to scale back their staff.

Other research concludes that increasing the minimum wage has an insignificant impact on employment, or none at all.

The best way to evaluate all the different conclusions is to analyze all the research findings together — what scientists call a “meta-analysis.” And the most recent ones suggest that the most likely impact on employment is minimal.

For example, a 2016 study by economists at Michigan State University crunched data from 60 research studies on the minimum wage in the United States since 2001. They concluded that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage would likely reduce overall employment from 0.5 percent to 1.2 percent.

Another meta-analysis comes in a new research paper by economists at the University of Massachusetts, University College London, and the Economic Policy Institute. They studied data from 138 cities and states that raised the minimum pay between 1979 and 2016. The conclusion is that low-wage workers received a 7 percent pay bump after a minimum wage law went into effect, but there was little or no change in employment.

In a 2018 working paper, soon to be published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, economist Arindrajit Dube shows that raising the minimum wage significantly reduces the number of families living in poverty. For example, he concludes that a $12 minimum wage in 2017 would have lifted 6.2 million people out of poverty.

But businesses, for the most part, really dislike the idea of raising the minimum wage. The US Chamber of Commerce, the US Business Council, and the Restaurant Association are just a few of the big industry groups that have lobbied aggressively against past attempts to do so.

Of course it would cost businesses more to pay workers more, and would likely lead to some job losses. But business groups have hyped up the economic impact of raising wages to the extreme, suggesting the economy would collapse and mass layoffs would ensue. What the research shows, however, is that this just isn’t true.

The fight for $15 has reached Congress

Around the same time that New Jersey signed its wage hike into law on February 4, Democrats in Congress began their push for a $15 minimum wage in every state.

A few days later, the House Committee on Education and Labor held its first hearing on the Raise the Wage Act, which would eventually double the federal minimum wage by 2024. The current minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 since 2009. The law would also tie future changes to the minimum wage based on changes to median workers’ pay. So if middle-class wages go up — or down — so does the minimum wage.

The bill, which has more than 190 co-sponsors (all Democrats), would also phase out the lower minimum wage for tipped workers — such as restaurant servers and valets — which has been stuck at $2.13 an hour since 1996.

Republicans in the House want nothing to do with the bill, and are sticking with the claim that it will actually hurt workers and trigger layoffs.

But their stance does not reflect what voters want — since most Americans want Congress to raise the federal minimum wage. Poll after poll shows widespread support for raising the federal minimum wage, even among Republican voters. And a majority of voters want it increased to $15 an hour.

That may explain why Thomas Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, recently toned down his usual criticism of efforts to raise the minimum wage, saying the chamber is “going to listen.”

While Congress debates the merits of a $15 wage floor, state lawmakers are pushing forward with their own plans. In fact, efforts are ramping up in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, and Hawaii too.



vox

5 ways Trump’s national emergency declaration could be stopped

 
President Donald Trump speaks on border security during a Rose Garden event at the White House February 15, 2019, in Washington, DC. 

House Democrats could file a resolution — and a lawsuit.

President Donald Trump has officially declared a national emergency in order to secure funding for his border wall. But he’s also ready to be challenged in court, as he said at the announcement Friday morning.

“We will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued,” Trump said on Friday, outlining the steps he expected the lawsuit to take all the way to the Supreme Court.

Trump is issuing the declaration under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, which lets presidents issue an emergency declaration but under certain constraints — namely, Trump can only use specific powers Congress has already codified by law, and he has to say which powers he’s using. The act doesn’t define what counts as an emergency.

As Vox’s Sean Illing, who spoke with 11 experts about the legality of Trump’s declaration, laid out, there’s enough ambiguity in the law to let Trump declare an emergency. But the maneuver may not stand up to legal scrutiny once challenged in court. He is effectively trying to circumvent Congress — which is supposed to have the “power of the purse” and has decided against funding his border wall — and it’s not clear whether Trump can actually use the armed forces for the project. And his claim that there’s an emergency at the border that necessitates a border wall is dubious.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday that they were prepared to take multiple routes to try to block Trump’s efforts. “The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the Courts, and in the public, using every remedy available,” they said in a statement.

There are several different paths to challenging the declaration. Here are some of the most likely.

1) A joint resolution of termination contesting the status of the emergency

Congressional Democrats have already said they plan to use any means they have to oppose Trump’s national emergency, including a legislative check a resolution contesting the status of the national emergency — that’s part of the National Emergencies Act of 1976.

Both chambers of Congress would need to approve the resolution by a simple majority (that’s 51 votes in the Senate and 218 votes in the House).

Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) announced Friday that they are ready to introduce a bill in the House that would block the emergency declaration. Castro has previously said he was prepared to introduce this resolution in the House, where Democrats have a comfortable majority. It remains to be seen whether the Senate has the numbers to approve it: The 47-member Democratic caucus would need four Republicans to join them.

If they can get the votes, the resolution then heads to Trump’s desk — where he’s expected to veto it. (It’s worth noting that Trump has threatened to veto many, many bills, but has yet to actually do so during his presidency.)

Because of his expected veto, stopping the declaration this way would require a veto-proof majority, which consists of a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate.

To reach that threshold in both chambers, Democrats would need the support of a hefty number of Republicans so they can get 67 votes in the Senate and 290 votes in the House. It’s unlikely this many Republicans would directly go up against the president.

2) Congressional Democrats sue the White House

As Pelosi and Schumer both mentioned, taking this fight to the courts is another possible means of blocking the emergency declaration — and there’s a precedent, one set by House Republicans.

House Democrats could sue the White House on the grounds that it is effectively bypassing Congress’s constitutional power of the purse, the same logic Republicans used in a 2014 lawsuit against the Obama administration.

At the time, Republicans argued that officials attempted to use federal funds that had not been approved by Congress to pay insurers under the Affordable Care Act. In that case, a federal judge ruled that Republicans had the grounds to sue the White House because its efforts infringed on Congress’s authority over appropriations.

House Democrats could also contest the status of the national emergency by arguing that it’s not actually an emergency at all, though experts have said that the law has typically granted the president a wide berth to determine what an emergency is.

3) Landowners sue the White House

Long before Trump’s emergency declaration, one likely source of resistance has been clear: people who own land along the US-Mexico border where Trump wants the wall to be built.

As the New York Times pointed out in 2017, dozens of lawsuits involving landowners in Texas were filed after President George W. Bush in 2006 signed the Secure Fence Act mandating fencing and walls be built along parts of the border. And in the case of Trump’s wall, the scenario is likely to be similar.

The federal government can legally invoke “eminent domain,” a power to take private land or property and convert it into public use enshrined within the US Constitution, but if Trump tries to do so for the border well, he could very well face a fight. Landowners could sue, as they did after Bush’s order, to keep the government from taking their land. And those lawsuits could last for a long time: the Washington Post in January reported that 334 eminent domain lawsuits were filed in South Texas under the Bush administration, and 60 to 70 of them are still pending.

4) Liberal activist groups sue the White House

The ACLU, which has filed multiple lawsuits against the Trump administration, on Friday said it planned to sue the president over his “blatantly illegal declaration of a national emergency.” The group called Trump’s move an “unconstitutional power grab that hurts American communities.” In a statement, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero cited Trump’s Rose Garden remarks, when Trump said he doesn’t “need” do declare an emergency “but I’d rather do it much faster.”

“He just grew impatient and frustrated with Congress,” Romero said.

Ahead of the declaration, nonpartisan nonprofit Protect Democracy and think tank the Niskanen Center said they were prepared to file a lawsuit. They are representing El Paso County and the Border Network for Human Rights. Trump traveled to El Paso for his first 2019 campaign rally, in part to highlight his calls for a border wall, and during the State of the Union falsely claimed border fencing reduced crime there.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego in a statement slammed Trump for his “many negative and false statements about our community in the attempt to justify his border wall.” He continued, “He has never reached out to the leadership of our community to determine if this is actually an emergency. This threatened emergency declaration will further damage El Paso County’s reputation and economy, and we are determined to stop this from happening.”

5) California and other states sue

Soon after Trump’s announcement on Friday, the state of California set in motion plans to file a lawsuit against his emergency declaration.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that Trump was “manufacturing a crisis and declaring a made-up ‘national emergency’ in order to seize power and subvert the constitution” in a joint statement on Friday. “Our message back to the White House is simple and clear: California will see you in court.”

Becerra had already telegraphed the move in his Spanish-language response to Trump’s State of the Union address.

California isn’t the only state poised to challenge Trump’s declaration. Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford in a statement said the Trump administration “should be prepared for a legal challenge” should Nevada’s federal funds be affected. Other states could resist as well.


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Aurora, Illinois, shooting: what we know

 

Multiple people, including police officers, were reportedly injured.

Multiple people, including police officers, were reportedly injured in a shooting at an industrial area in Aurora, Illinois, on Friday.

The shooter reportedly remains at large. It is not clear how many people were shot, and if any were killed.

The story is still developing. Here’s what we know, and don’t, so far.

What we know

  • At 2:20 pm local time, the city of Aurora’s Twitter account tweeted that there was an active shooter “near Highland and Archer,” with police on the scene. More than 20 minutes later, the Aurora Police Department confirmed “an active shooter incident.”
  • Multiple people were injured, including police officers, reported the Daily Herald, a newspaper in suburban Chicago.
  • Multiple people were sent to local hospitals, according to CNN.
  • The shooter remains at large, according to the Daily Herald.
  • Prior to the shooting in Aurora, Illinois, there had been 38 mass shootings so far in 2019, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The organization defines mass shootings as events in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, were shot but not necessarily killed in a similar time and place.

What we don’t know

  • The identity of the shooter(s)
  • The motive of the shooter(s)
  • The number of people injured and killed
  • The identity of the victims


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Ralph Northam wants forgiveness. Virginia’s black activists want him to work for it.

 

Trump just tweeted a video of Democrats looking sad set to REM’s “Everybody Hurts.” Really.

 

The president of the United States, everyone.

After declaring a national emergency to get his wall at the US-Mexico border on Friday, President Donald Trump took a little time on Twitter to mock his Democratic critics — and Mitt Romney.

The tweet features a video of Trump’s State of the Union last week, with REM’s “Everybody Hurts” playing in the background, and shots of various Democrats — Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and more — looking sad while they watched Trump speak. There is also a cut to Romney, who’s at times critical of Trump.

The video is credited to @Carpedonktum, a pro-Trump meme-maker — making it even weirder, since presidents usually don’t promote random Twitter accounts’ content.

Sure, this is funny — if, say, The Daily Show or Stephen Colbert does something like it.

But for the president to tweet it, it’s alarming. In the past, presidents have tried to keep at least a bit of an appearance that they respected and were willing to work with the other party. With his tweet, Trump is doing nothing of the sort; he’s just mocking his Democratic rivals.

It’s another example of how strong negative partisanship — or, in conservative parlance, “owning the libs” — has become. On both sides of the aisle, people love dunking on the other team. As American politics becomes more and more polarized, and Republicans in particular move in more extreme directions, this is becoming a bigger problem — one that’s fracturing both sides’ ability to work together to pass legislation and solve problems.

This even showed up in Trump’s State of the Union speech. Peter Baker reported for the New York Times that the initial speech was supposed to promote a more unified, bipartisan message, but Trump tried to edit it to make it meaner to Democrats — because, Baker wrote, Trump was still “stung by his failure to use a partial government shutdown to pressure Congress into paying for his border wall.”

And we’ve seen it in governments’ inability to really function in recent years, with various threats that the debt ceiling won’t be increased and multiple government shutdowns.

All of that may lead to some funny, unexpected tweets. But those tweets are a symptom of America’s broken politics.



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The Census lawsuit headed straight to the Supreme Court, explained

 

2019 has been Trump’s most disjunctive year yet. And it’s only February.

 
President Donald Trump speaks in front of a border wall prototype.

Three gaps help us understand the politics of the wall, the shutdown, and the national emergency declaration.

A few weeks after the longest government shutdown in history, projected to have cost $3 billion in lost GDP, it looks as though we won’t have another one right away. Over the objections of leaders in his own party, Trump has announced that he will declare a national emergency in order to construct a wall along the US southern border. Welcome to the politics of disjunction.

What does this mean? According to Stephen Skowronek’s theory of presidents and parties in cyclical “political time,” disjunctive presidents are the ones who go down in history as the worst. These presidents have some commonalities across historical eras, but a few things stand out: they come at the end of a “regime” started 40 to 60 years prior where a president of the same party set the terms of debate. But those terms, and the coalition that united behind them, have gone stale and no longer meet the demands of the era.

We can understand how disjunctive politics is shaping the Trump administration, the shutdown, and even what’s going on to some extent on the Democratic side, by thinking about three gaps.

The gap between Trump’s base and the rest of the country

During the 35-day shutdown, a poll by Pew said that 29 percent of Americans favored substantially expanding the border wall and found a budget deal without wall funding an unacceptable option. This number is a bit lower than what experts have estimated is Trump’s public opinion “floor,” so it probably reflects his absolute core supporters who are either diehard Republicans or simply devotees of the president and his ideas (or both). What’s more, this number is similar to the average polls on support for a national emergency.

One way to look at this is to say, well, 30 percent is far from a majority. The correct — or at least most representative — course of action should be obvious. In the context of disjunctive politics, it poses a trickier situation. One of the key features of disjunction is that presidents in this position can’t reconcile the imperatives of their party with the broader national conversation.

For Franklin Pierce back in the 1850s, this was reconciling the fact that the Democratic Party had built its political operation on balance across regions and compromise over slavery. As the conflict over expansion and the institution itself grew in intensity, the two political logics couldn’t coexist.

In the case of Herbert Hoover, the important ideas and players in the Republican Party weren’t compatible with making fundamental adjustments in the political economy to address the Great Depression.

For Trump, it’s a set of ideas that provided the justification for his presidential candidacy but have proven to be out of step with the country overall. It’s not just a matter of ignoring public opinion, but of the impossibility of bridging this particular gap. And the difference doesn’t seem to be shrinking: Americans tend to favor more “welcoming” immigration policies, in the words of Tufts University political scientist Deborah Schildkraut.

The gap between politics and policy

When politics and policy are aligned, politicians can run on slogans and ideas that garner political support for policies that are workable and reasonably popular. No policy is seamless in its implementation or unanimous in its reception. But sometimes leaders do manage to run on an idea that can translate into a policy change that achieves some of what it promises: new government programs, tax cuts, better health coverage, etc.

The way this seems to have manifested in contemporary politics is in debates that are long on symbolism and short on policy specifics. The wall is a good example of this; experts suggest that it would make no difference in stopping drugs or human trafficking, and his depiction of a disaster in places like El Paso doesn’t seem to resonate with either immigration experts or residents.

Symbolism also plays a role for Democrats. The proposed Green New Deal has drawn some criticism for being aspirational rather than a practical plan (it’s also been praised for the same thing). Being skilled at messaging (especially, but maybe not only on Twitter) turns out to be useful for politicians across the ideological spectrum, but it’s still an open question whether that helps change policy.

The long shutdown had a lot of negative effects, but it may have helped narrow the gap between politics and policy. Republican legislators clearly grew weary of paying the political costs of a prolonged shutdown. Americans got to see all of the areas where government performs an important function and policy matters: air travel, national parks, weather forecasting.

The emergency declaration, on the other hand, once again widens the gap between politics and policy, reinforcing a sense that rhetoric is separate from either tangible problems or pragmatic solutions. A Facebook meme has emerged where you can mark yourself “safe from Trump’s bullshit emergency.”

We might be used to a politics in which we expect a lot of symbolism and not a lot of concrete policy acton. But that doesn’t make it okay. A widening gap between politics and policy is a concerning development. In a democracy, words have meaning. Trump has declared an emergency, but even many members of Trump’s own party don’t buy the emergency characterization. A situation in which a president calls something an emergency in order to go around Congress not only undermines basic transparency and honesty, it also contributes to a general cynicism about politics that is often a feature of a disjunctive presidency.

The gap between Trump’s formal and informal power

I noted in my piece about the lessons of 2018 that we should think about Trump’s presidency not purely in terms of weakness and strength. Instead, we should consider the different kinds of formal and informal power that individual presidents can wield. Trump lacked the ability to make the border wall popular, but his formal capacities to veto bills informed Congress’ response to him anyway. And despite the president’s lack of any kind of formal control over his party, Mitch McConnell’s reaction to the shutdown illustrated that Trump is still in meaningful ways the leader of the Republican Party.

The emergency declaration has made this gap even more evident. The law allows Trump to declare an emergency (at least until courts say otherwise or Congress passes a joint resolution ending it). Nevertheless, the president’s political capital, informal authority, and influence, whatever you want to call it, is likely to fall as a result of the shaky justification for invoking a state of emergency. In classic disjunctive form, Trump can do it, because the presidency is powerful no matter where we are in the cycle. Defining and justifying it will be a lot harder.



vox

Trump suggests he’s privy to secret stats proving immigrants are violent criminals

 

Trump’s wall won’t do anything about drugs

 
President Trump declared a national emergency in order to build a barrier on the US-Mexico border without funding from Congress, in the Rose Garden at the White House on February 15, 2019.

If Trump has extra anti-drug money sitting around, the wall is a bad way to spend it.

Congress isn’t giving President Donald Trump the money he wants for a wall at the US-Mexico border. So Trump on Friday announced that he’ll take matters into his own hands, using an emergency declaration and executive action to get his money anyway.

The plan is to use the $1.375 billion Congress allocated for barriers at the border, along with $600 million from the Treasury Department’s drug forfeiture fund, $2.5 billion from the Defense Department’s drug interdiction program, and, with an emergency declaration, $3.5 billion from the military construction budget.

The Treasury funds are essentially the proceeds from seizures during anti-drug actions; this money is typically slated for other law enforcement and anti-drug programs, but it’s also, in this case, a convenient source of revenue for Trump. The Defense Department funding, on the other hand, is intended for operations to stop drug trafficking around the world; think the typical — and largely ineffective, as I’ll explain below — international war on drug efforts in the US, Mexico, Colombia, and elsewhere.

By framing the wall as an anti-drug and law enforcement program, Trump can argue that the money in both these cases is going to its stated mission. “One of the things I said I have to do and I want to do is border security,” Trump said in his announcement Friday, “because we have tremendous amounts of drugs flowing into our country, much of it coming from the southern border.”

There are legal questions about whether Trump can use this specific money or declare an emergency to build the wall. But even if it’s legal, the fact remains that the wall is the wrong way to combat drug addiction and overdoses.

Most drugs that come into the US come through legal ports of entry — not the illegal border crossings that a wall would aim to stop. And to the extent that some drugs do come through illegal crossings, the people trafficking these substances have long proved adept at overcoming barriers, even using submarines and drones.

Meanwhile, there are areas in drug policy that really could use the money — particularly drug addiction treatment. As the country is ravaged by an opioid epidemic linked to tens of thousands of deaths each year, experts have called for tens of billions of dollars in spending to make treatment far more accessible. Trump has declared an emergency for the opioid crisis, but he has not allocated any money as a result.

If he really wants to do something about drugs in the US, he doesn’t need a new emergency declaration. He should look to the emergency he declared before.

The wall won’t stop drugs from Mexico

Border security experts have long argued that a wall won’t do much to stop the flow of drugs into the US.

“A wall alone cannot stop the flow of drugs into the United States,” Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, previously told me. “If we’re talking about a broader increase in border security, there could be some — probably minor — implications for the overall numbers of drugs being trafficked. But history shows us that border enforcement has been much more effective at changing the when and where of drugs being brought into the United States rather than the overall amount of drugs being brought into the United States.”

For one, most illegal drugs come through legal ports of entry. Trump denied this in his announcement on Friday, but his own Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) disagrees.

As the DEA concluded in 2017, “The most common method employed by these [drug trafficking organizations] involves transporting illicit drugs through U.S. ports of entry (POEs) in passenger vehicles with concealed compartments or commingled with legitimate goods on tractor trailers.”

Traditionally, it’s worked like a scene out of a TV show like Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul: A truck transporting legal goods (like ice cream) goes through the US border, sneaking illicit drugs through security inspections by simply hiding them — among other products, in a secret compartment, or some other tricky spot.

In recent years, a growing amount of illicit fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s increasingly substituting heroin in the black market, has also started to come into the US through the mail, often from China.

Trump argued on Friday that most illegal drugs “can’t go through ports of entry,” and that “you can’t take big loads” because they would be stopped by law enforcement. But this fundamentally misunderstands how drug trafficking works: It is possible to ship “big loads” of drugs through ports of entry because drugs, especially potent substances like heroin and fentanyl, are small and easy to compact — making it easy to hide them among other goods and in hidden compartments.

Still, a minority of drugs do, based on the DEA’s reports, come through illegal crossings. But there’s no reason to think that a simple barrier will do much to stop these drugs.

Drug trafficking organizations are now extremely sophisticated. They deploy tools like drones, submarines, and narco-torpedoes to get around border security. They dig miles-long tunnels under walls and fences, and fire bazookas over them. Modern technology has simply outpaced walls, at least when it comes to drug trafficking.

The simple problem is drugs are tremendously profitable. That makes it so, no matter how many barriers (physical or otherwise) the US puts up, someone will always try to find a way around the barriers and ship the drugs anyway. There’s just too much money to make in this space for criminal organizations to not try to take part.

This has led to what experts call the “balloon effect”: As one part of a balloon is pushed down, the air is simply shifted to other parts of the balloon. In reality, this means that when the US has cracked down on drug trafficking in one area, drug trafficking has simply shifted elsewhere — from Peru and Bolivia to Colombia, from the Netherland Antilles to West Africa, and from the Caribbean to Mexico.

A 2014 review of the research by Peter Reuter at the University of Maryland and Harold Pollack at the University of Chicago backed this up, finding no good evidence that tougher measures against the distribution of drugs actually reduce access to these substances. To that end, even the original intent of the Defense Department’s drug interdiction program — which Trump is taking money from for the wall — isn’t very effective either.

The result is that tougher border security is limited in how much it can do to stop drugs.

Want to spend money on anti-drug programs? Fund treatment.

It’s these limitations that have led many drug policy experts to focus on another area: If we can’t do much about the supply of drugs, maybe we can do something about the demand. By putting more money into addiction treatment, the thinking goes, fewer people will want to use drugs in the first place — leading to fewer cases of addiction and overdose deaths.

But even as the opioid epidemic is linked to record levels of overdose death year after year, America’s addiction treatment infrastructure remains woefully inadequate.

Federal data suggests that only one in 10 people with any substance use disorder and one in five people with an opioid use disorder seek specialty treatment. And even when an addiction treatment clinic is available, fewer than half of facilities offer opioid addiction medications like buprenorphine and methadone, which are considered the gold standard for opioid addiction treatment and reduce the mortality rate among patients by half or more. In other words, treatment is inaccessible enough that most people who need it don’t get it, and even when treatment is available, it doesn’t meet the best standards of care.

The combination of tens of thousands of overdose deaths and a seriously lacking addiction treatment system is why experts say tens of billions of dollars need to go to the problem — adding up to an investment comparable to what the US put toward HIV/AIDS in the 1990s. (In recent years, drug overdoses were linked to more deaths than HIV/AIDS at its peak.)

“To actually stem the tide of overdose deaths, we need funding and innovation that is on par with our response to HIV/AIDS,” Sarah Wakeman, an addiction medicine doctor and medical director at the Massachusetts General Hospital Substance Use Disorder Initiative, previously told me. That, she explained, will require “a massive infusion of funding and a fundamental restructuring of how we treat addiction in this country.”

Yet so far, Trump and Congress have not taken much action. In 2016, under President Barack Obama, Congress approved $500 million a year for the opioid crisis with the Cures Act. Last year, it agreed to an additional $3.3 billion a year. And it’s passed other measures that authorize smaller grant programs, lift restrictions on certain kinds of addiction treatment, and make other legal and regulatory tweaks to open access to treatment. Experts acknowledge these are all positive steps — but they’re simply not enough.

The funds that Trump is directing to his wall may not be eligible for addiction treatment (or the wall, for that matter). And they wouldn’t be enough to tackle the full scale of the opioid crisis.

But if Trump is really determined to do something about America’s drug problem, treatment is what he should be thinking about — not a wall.



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